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The haunting decay of Plaza West

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The outside looks salvageable, but the inside is a cobweb of questions. The paint is peeling. It cracks and falls off the walls like snow — stale and crunchy chips that crumble into smaller flakes when they hit the filthy floor.

Most of the windows have been boarded over, and those that aren’t covered with plywood rain shattered glass from the upper floors to the sidewalks. The ceiling is caving in and the floorboards are rotting, exposing the building’s skeleton.

On July 26, the Herald was granted permission by Freeport village officials to tour the inside of the abandoned six-story building at 70 W. Sunrise Highway in Freeport. Atlantic Auto Group plans to raze the property, and transform it into a Lexus dealership. The Plaza West property includes the former bank building, the adjacent lot and the Church Street triangle.

According to Freeport Historical Society records, the Meadow Brook Bank, the village’s second bank, opened in 1911 on the triangular property on Sunrise Highway, near South Grove Street, now Guy Lombardo Avenue. Initially, the building was two stories high, made of Indiana limestone designed in Romanesque style, including Ionic Columbian pilasters.

By 1929, the current building had been designed and built by the Hoggson Brothers. The Meadowbrook Bank was six stories high with a two-story base, inspired by the Art Deco Flatiron building in Manhattan and measuring something over 17,000 square feet, including a basement. The lobby, finished in Caen marble and bronze, featured an elevator, a cigar stand, a mail chute and a staircase. The building’s base is granite topped by limestone and brick, with limestone trim and Mayan-style reliefs decorating the façade, documents show.

An observation tower was built on the roof during World War II, in case enemy planes might be spotted. The bank closed in 1990.

In 1991, the four-sided, freestanding clock, near the main entrance, was landmarked, but not the building. Three years later, veterans groups proposed designating the building’s front tower as an MIA/POW memorial, but nothing came of their initiative. That same year, the Freeport Landmarks Preservation Commission made an effort to designate the building as a landmark, but then Mayor Art Thompson and the village board refused to vote on the proposal, records show.

The building has been abandoned for 30 years, and many village administrations have tried to develop the property into housing, with no success. Freeporters appear divided on what should be done with it. Some are pushing the village to preserve the space for its historical relevance. Others clamor for housing. Still others favor the Lexus dealer.
At least it won’t rot in the meantime, they say.

Though nothing has been finalized, village officials remain optimistic that the aging and dilapidated property will eventually be rehabilitated.

These photos of the forsaken building capture the end stage of its life cycle. The decay is evidence of the absence of human occupation and decades of neglect. It’s as if time froze long ago, and nature slowly began reclaiming the land.

Entering Plaza West is like dusting off an old treasure trunk, but instead of gold or jewelry, there is the unwelcoming stench of mold, mildew and rust. Rodents scurry about. The first floor and basement are pitch black. Elevator shafts are flooded with what must be water, though it’s too murky to tell. There are dangling wires, broken fuse boxes, corroded pipes. Cracks in once-solid building walls run in all directions.
In the basement, antique vault doors remain wide open, and lead to rows of safe-deposit boxes so rusted that they glitter when light catches them. Most are empty, but in the farthest corner, one holds small boxes of film, dated June 1951, still awaiting their owner’s return.

Each floor is vacant, though there is an occasional chair or a pen left behind, evidence of long-ago commerce. On the fifth floor, in a battered brown wooden door, a key hangs in the keyhole, as if left behind by a ghost.

Plaza West still stands, long neglected, hopelessly run down and now far too much of a burden for the village to maintain. It will never be what it once was, but it looms too large to be forgotten, to simply be erased from Freeport’s collective memory.

What will it become?